(The gist: American Mary worked for me on many levels. It was dark and twisted. I enjoyed the characters and plot. There was graphic surgery and extreme body modification. There was fetish. Simply put, I loved it.)
American Mary tells the story of a broke and starving medical student who is raped by one of her professors. She then enacts her revenge and also abandons the pursuit of becoming a surgeon to perform extreme body modification for a very specific subculture.
Honestly, I enjoyed nearly every aspect of this film. The storyline deeply intrigued me from the first frame. The plot was well paced and developed; I never felt left behind or bored. I quickly became invested in the characters. The acting, though shaky by at least one, was mostly transparent. The fetish theme and aesthetics were interesting.
I found Mary's character to be complex and fascinating. Outwardly, she is rather flatline, unemotional, borderline catatonic. She reacts very subtly to traumas like her rape and her grandmother's death. However, her actions and her character's transformation throughout the story betray the depths of her pain and emotion. As she cuts into her rapist, she speaks to him calmly and conversationally, almost robot-like. However, the fact that she painstakingly crafts such an exquisite revenge communicates her pain and actual feelings. That dynamic of her character only invested me deeper and pulled me into her plight.
Gore is important to any horror film. It is a pillar of the genre and has to be done right. I require a proper balance of gore. Too much and I become desensitized and it loses it effect; too little and I am watching suspense rather than horror. American Mary treads that line well, especially for the subject matter upon which it centers. Surgery scenes are graphic; at least one felt like a (more) twisted episode of Nip/Tuck. The body modifications were extreme, and more basic modifications (like piercings) were branded as "vanilla." Everything got the point across and even managed to make me cringe once or twice.
Rape horror, however, is one of my personal thresholds. While I respect that the subgenre has its place, I choose not to indulge in the exceptionally graphic or prolonged selections. In American Mary, Mary's rape is central and necessary to the plot, as it is the catalyst for her vengeance and complete change in character. The rape scene is sufficiently involved to convey the point and evoke the appropriate empathy for Mary, yet it thankfully fell short of crossing my threshold. It made me uncomfortable and I wanted it to stop, but that is, after all, part of the point.
I can also safely brand American Mary as a fetish film. Aside from the obvious facts that the body modifications included in the movie are each their own fetish and body modification as a whole practice is considered a fetish, the movie itself had its own additional fetish aesthetic. Mary always wears stilettos and a tight skirt, especially in the less than appropriate situations. Mary carves up her victims, including her rapist, wearing underwear, a PVC apron, and heels. This approach adds another dimension to the film, and specifically Mary, and makes it even more enjoyable to watch.
American Mary even included unrequited romance between Mary and the strip club owner who introduces her to her new calling, which happens to be one of my guilty little pleasures in a horror movie. Something about imperfect attraction and ill-fated romance in awful or depraved situations just resonates with me. It seems more authentic than the staged, idealized love portrayed in romantic comedies and the like because life is often actually imperfect, ill-fated, awful, and depraved. The inclusion of this dynamic always draws me that much more into the story and characters, gets me to care a little bit extra. Maybe I am just a girl at the bottom of my dark little heart.
Top to bottom, I enjoyed American Mary. I have no real complaints. I will watch it again; I would even own it.